Joe Milton has entered the transfer portal, becoming the sixth quarterback to transfer out of the Michigan football program since Jim Harbaugh took over prior to the 2015 season.

So, needless to say, a QB transferring out of Ann Arbor shouldn’t come as a major surprise. In fact, it should probably be expected on a semi-annual basis.

Now that the former 4-star 2017 recruit has chosen to move on, it’s time to take a look at what could be one of the most exciting QB battles during Harbaugh’s tenure: Redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara vs. true freshman JJ McCarthy.

In 2020, McNamara essentially took over the starting job before suffering a shoulder injury against Penn State. Before the setback, McNamara was known for leading the Wolverines to a 48-42 triple-overtime win over Rutgers, which led 17-0 in the first half.

Sure, a 2-4 finish wasn’t ideal for Michigan, but finding its next presumed starter happened to be a blessing in disguise. The QB position has been amiss for a few years, so Harbaugh probably felt good knowing that he had a solid leader ready to go for the 2021 season – that being McNamara.

In just 4 games, McNamara completed 60.6% of his passes for 425 yards and 5 TDs – and he didn’t throw a single interception. The 6-1, 205-pounder also displayed leadership qualities, rallying his teammates throughout the season.

Particularly prior to the Penn State game

“Let’s f-ing build on this sh-t boys!” McNamara famously said after beating Rutgers. “Let’s f-ing get it! What happens if we win out, huh? Who’s going to remember all the f-ing games before this, man? We win out, we did our job. We said we were going to win out – let’s f-ing do it.”

That video has since been removed from the interwebs, but you get the hint: McNamara is a fiery competitor who knows how to motivate.

McCarthy is cut from similar cloth, though.

During an exclusive interview with Saturday Tradition in November, the No. 21 ranked player of 2021 – also the No. 2 pro-style QB – spoke with determination and desire. He wants to win. He was bred to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness.

“I believe I was just kind of born with it, just with the sports I’ve played and the position and the experiences that I’ve gone through,” McCarthy said. “Playing quarterback – you are – you’re supposed to be the leader, and it’s the job you take when you say you’re going to be playing quarterback. When I made the decision to play the position that I love, I was signing up for the role that was needed to win games; the role Michael Jordan played. Kobe. Tom Brady. Russell Wilson. Pretty much every leader out there. I would consistently and constantly study them and their mindsets.”

It’s not like McCarthy and McNamara are that different from anyone competing at a high level – there are leaders on every team with the exact mindset as Michigan’s top two quarterbacks. However, there is no such thing as too much leadership, so the Wolverines are in an ideal position with their two youngsters.

Harbaugh hasn’t had a ton of luck with quarterbacks at UM. His top two, so far, have been Jake Rudock, who transferred from Iowa, and Wilton Speight, a 2-year starter who ended up at UCLA for his final year of eligibility.

In 2020, Milton had to be the man in order for the public to truly believe in Harbaugh’s QB-whispering skills – you know, the skills that help mold Andrew Luck at Stanford. Milton fell flat, leaving Harbaugh on the search for another “next” QB.

McNamara’s emergence was a bonus, really. McCarthy has been viewed as “next” ever since he committed to the Wolverines 2 years ago. At roughly 6-1 and 205 pounds, both candidates are essentially the same size. They’re both athletic and charismatic in their own ways.

McNamara is regarded as the greatest high school QB to ever come out of Nevada, while McCarthy is touted as one of the greatest – regardless of position – from Illinois’ prep ranks.

It’s been a decade since a true freshman has started at QB for Michigan, and Harbaugh has never started a true freshman while in Ann Arbor. Given that, it’s easy to project McNamara as the leader heading into spring practice, which begins Monday, Feb. 22.

They’ll have 15 practice sessions to figure out who’s the man heading into fall, and then the season will sort the rest out for the Wolverines, who have been one star QB away from truly competing for a Big Ten title.